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ANALYSIS, ARTICLES

Orlando and Jo Cox: a time for reflection

Jo_Cox_MP_Memorial

Flowers laid to remember Jo Cox, MP

In the wake of the massacre of 49 revellers in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a man claiming allegiance to the Daesh Islamic Caliphate and the assassination of Jo Cox by a disturbed man allegedly linked to an American neo-nazi group, we need to sit back and evaluate what’s really going on.

Jo Cox was a Member of Parliament. She was elected to serve the people of her constituency, whether they had voted for her or not and whether they agreed with her or not. When Thomas Mair appeared in court, he gave his name as ‘Death to Traitors. Freedom for Britain’.He seems to see himself as a brave freedom fighter taking out an evil traitor who presumably deserved to die. In fact, Jo Cox’s assassination was not just an attack on her but on the institutions, however imperfect, of our democracy. It was an attack on us all. In the wake of her assassination it has been disconcerting to see shameless shroud-waving [1] from ghoulish Remain campaigners and their media allies who sought to use her murder to denigrate Leave campaigners. An attack on us all was pressed into service to swing the referendum and to chill the democratic debate by putting some subjects out of bounds for discussion.

Omar Mateen, the Orlando mass-killer, posted on Facebook, “The real Muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west … You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes..Now taste the Islamic state vengeance” as well as “America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state.” He too saw himself as a freedom fighter taking the fight to the Evil Empire of Crusaders. According to his father, he had a particular hatred for gay men after he witnessed two men kissed in public in front of him and his family.

Some folk in the LGBT+ community, most notably the columnist Owen Jones, seem to want to own this atrocity for the community alone, claiming that straight people are incapable of identifying with the victims or their families. Only gay people are capable of understanding them. In reality, of course, although the murderous attack was motivated to some degree by homophobia, there was more to it than that as Mateen’s Facebook statement made clear. Donald Trump and the Christian radical right chose to ignore the homophobia angle and zero in on his declared allegiance to Daesh/ISIS. Liberals in America aren’t above a bit of shroud-waving too as they declare the need for stricter gun laws. A sense of solidarity against evil acts has broken down in the Cultural War as various groups contend against one-another for the role of the ‘real victims’.

In our righteous indignation, the easy way out is to dismiss the perpetrators of each of these crimes as mentally ill or evil; people who are nothing like us. Then we can search for the scapegoats outlined above, whether it is ‘radical Islamic terrorism’, lax gun laws, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, liberalism, the internet or even Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. If only things were so simple.

The truth is that all of us are capable of acts of evil. All of us are capable of saying or doing things that do great harm to others and ourselves. In our own minds, of course, we are the good guys. It’s the other crowd who are evil with no redeeming features. When people do or say things we disagree with or challenge our deepest held understandings it is all too easy to dismiss what they say as the rantings of haters or traitors, knuckle-dragging rednecks, bigots, queers, Islamists, godless atheists, liberals, fascists, racists, commies, homophobes, anti-Semites, Orange bastards or Fenian bastards (delete or insert your most currently despised out-group as applicable); evil people of no account; the dreaded Other who must be punished, driven out or eliminated from society by ‘all decent people’, people like us.

In fact the members of all the out-groups are people like us. While they may advocate and implement policies we disagree with, few of them are intrinsically evil. Everyone believes that they are the good guys; even the jihadis, the neo-nazis and the dissident republican terrorists who commit evil acts like the Orlando massacre, the assassination of Jo Cox and the Omagh bomb. Former CIA undercover agent Amaryllis Fox explains this in a recently circulated video on YouTube [2]. Members of these groups see themselves as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker combating the might of the Evil Empire.

In a spirit of solidarity and empathy, it’s time to tone down the Cultural War rhetoric and listen to what people have to say. When necessary, we must challenge what they say and call them out on the evil acts they commit, but be ready to modify our own position if the evidence leads us that way. We need to abandon hysteria and hyperbole and the routine denigration and demonisation of our opponents. We must also resist any attempt to exclude us from the public sphere, to close off areas of debate or to denigrate and demonise us and our point of view or to damn by association reasonable arguments for immigration reform, or the restoration of sovereignty to the British people with Jo Cox’s assassin and his absolutist ideology.

By David Kerr

 

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